Mary the Jewess
circa 100 BCE
Neoplatonism, Metaphysics 

Kate Lindemann's 

Women Philosophers


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She was born between the first and third centuries AD in Egypt. She was a Platonist natural philosopher. She was the first alchemist in western philosophy. Most pre-Socratic philosophers where interested in the physical changes of matter. Later, Peripatetics and Epicureans inherited such practices. However, Mary was the first one chiefly interested in the chemical changes of matter. Some instruments still used in modern chemistry were initially developed by her, according to natural philosopher Zosimos.

Mary was influential in the Imperial Roman worldview that mixed mysticism and science to explain the universe. In this way, she is a precursor of Medieval science. According to Christianos the alchemist, she is the first ancient philosopher that stated the philosopher´s stone hypothesis. The idea of transmuting the elements led to the study of the structure of matter in the following centuries. While the most ancient physicists like Thales and Anaximenes believed everything was made of the same substance, later scholars such as Democritus and Epicurus believed that matter was made up of an incredibly large number of substances. The idea of the philosopher´s stone suggests that there is an underlying common substance to all matter, as it can be interchangeably transmuted. This idea is based in the changes of the four elements of Anaximander suggested by Plato in the dialogue "Timaeus". The philosopher´s stone agenda is to try to perform this in real life as a technological assay. The philosopher´s stone hypothesis has been shown false through scientific experiments. However, this paved the way for the study of the structure of the atom and the periodic table of chemical elements.

by Ernesto Alvarado Reyes (Mexico City)

Society for the Study of Women Philosophers

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